On 2 June 2022, a company running a business specialising in house demolitions and removals, together with its director, were sentenced in the Bundaberg Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). The company pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its primary duty to ensure workers’ health and safety, thereby exposing them to the risk of death or serious injury. The director pleaded guilty to failing to exercise due diligence to ensure the company complied with its duty, thereby exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury.
The company conducts a business involving the relocation, demolition, re-stumping and raising of houses in Queensland. The business had been operating for 30 years. The director is the sole director and shareholder of the company, and had been involved with the business for 10 years.
The company were contracted to remove a double storey house. Three workers were working at the property on the date of the offence. The workers had not received any induction or formal training. The work that the workers were undertaking required the workers to regularly work from heights. Whilst there were safety harnesses available, the company did not enforce the use of them, and workers had not been trained on how to wear them. No other protections or measures were in place to eliminate or minimize the risk of the workers falling from a height.
The company also failed to implement adequate policies, procedures or training, which were necessary to achieve a safe system of work. The director did not ensure the company used resources and processes to implement suitable measures to minimise the risk of falling from height.
The failures by the company and the director exposed the workers to the risk of serious injury or death from falling from the roof of the house. On 7 January 2021, this risk materialised when an 18-year-old worker fell approximately 5 metres from the roof to the ground below when he was attempting to secure a tarpaulin across the roof of the house for weather protection. The worker sustained a back injury. He was hospitalised for nine days and unable to work for months.
After the incident, the company increased safety measures for the protection of workers. This included engaging a work health and safety consultant to review the safety systems, develop an induction program, and draft an extensive Safe Work Method Statement. These reforms included the implementation of mandatory “working at height” training for all workers, and the wearing of safety harnesses while working from a height, among other protective measures.
His Honour Magistrate McInnes identified that the point of the legislation was to make workplaces safe, and that the gravamen of the offending was the failure to ameliorate risks. His Honour observed that the post offence efforts of the defendants in completely overhauling their safety systems demonstrated that each had embraced the lesson learnt from the events the subject of the offending.
Other mitigating features referred to by his Honour included that both defendants had pleaded guilty and co-operated with the investigation, including participating in an interview and making candid admissions.
In the circumstances, a fine of $45,000 was determined to be the appropriate penalty for the defendant company. The director was fined $15,000. No convictions were recorded.
OWHSP contact: email@example.com
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Sections 27 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011